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Cressida Dick was right to go. But the Met’s problems do not begin and end at the top

Sadiq Khan is not the only one who lost confidence in the Met police commissioner. However, the issues at play go deeper than requiring new leadership

Cressida Dick has resigned as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images

On the whole, I’m not partial to phallus-based jokes. I’m of the opinion they’re somewhat lazy as the comic reaches for low-hanging fruit – pun intended. On Thursday night, Twitter was awash with them after Dame Cressida Dick announced she was to step down as head of the Met police. Most with the running theme of “one down, one to go”. 

News moves fast. In the space of two hours, Dick went from telling BBC Radio London that she had “absolutely no intention” of leaving her post to stepping down from the role after Sadiq Khan had lost confidence in her leadership and ability to tackle racism and sexism in the force. In rolled the (Cressida) Dick jokes. While the Met’s actions over the last several months have certainly been laughable – in the sense that if you don’t laugh you’ll cry – it’s not funny anymore. 

The Met’s approach to Partygate, under Dame Cressida, has been confusing at best. First, their position was that they did not investigate crimes retrospectively. As this is the only way possible to investigate law-breaking, this was puzzling. The stance then moved to not investigating as there was a lack of evidence – but they only had to ask The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar for that. Then, there was a request for the Sue Gray report not to include details of the Downing Street parties that the Met, eventually, decided to investigate. Now, they will send questionnaires about the parties to Boris Johnson and 50 staff; it’s been a long journey to this point alone.

Dame Cressida’s problems go back further than this. In March 2021, Sarah Everard was murdered by serving Met police officer, Wayne Couzens. Couzens was able to kidnap Everard by falsely arresting her for breaking lockdown restrictions put in place by a government who failed to follow them themselves, violations of which the Met were hesitant to investigate. 

The infamously heavy-handed response from the Met to a vigil for Everard in Clapham Common, organised by the group Reclaim These Streets, was unforgiving. In a photo that has since been widely associated with the event, a masked protestor called Patsy Stevenson, was pinned down to the ground by two police officers. I have seen my best friend cry twice in 20 years of knowing her. The first involved more than our fair share of Tequila, the second was the morning this image emerged. All the while, Dame Cressida said she “was so sorry”, but remained in her position. 

Partygate and the vigil; the two instances do not sit well together and Delyth Jewell, Member of the Senedd for South Wales East region, best captured this on last night’s Question Time. “There are two duties the police must uphold,” she said. “One is to hold the people who break the law to account and the other is to protect the public.” For Jewell, the images of the Christmas party at Downing Street and Stevenson being forced to the ground symbolises the Met’s inability, and reluctance, to do either. 

In November, after delivering what has since been dubbed the “Peppa Pig speech” at the CBI conference one reporter asked Boris Johnson, “Is everything okay?” As far as questions you want to be asked as prime minister go, it’s fairly low down on the list. The next month, the Met released a bizarre PR strategy that left many wondering if this same question should be asked of Dame Cressida. 

In the spirit of Christmas, London’s police force decided it would take a festive approach to hunt down criminals by posting a strange video advent calendar to its social media which revealed a new suspect daily for the public to watch out for, up until December 25. It started with a sign appearing on a jolly holly-red background reading “12 days of Christmas crime” as snow fell around it. What was behind door number one? “Andrew Claffey who was wanted for assault and carrying a knife!” 

For superintendent Thomas Naughton, all was well. In a statement, he said: “With Christmas around 12 days away, we are increasing our efforts to arrest these individuals and apprehend them for their crimes.” There are budget cuts, and then there’s outsourcing police work. Was everything okay? Clearly not. 

The Met’s problems do not begin and end at the top. Misogyny, discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment have been uncovered throughout the ranks of the Met in a damning report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). This inquiry found evidence of messages between officers that were sexualised, violent and discriminatory, defended as “banter”. These included messages between officers about attending a festival dressed as known sex offenders, homophobic comments and numerous jokes about rape. 

Since the vigil, Stevenson has experienced such behaviour. She told the BBC that around 50 police officers and security guards had liked her profile on Tinder. “They were all in uniform on their profiles or it said ‘I’m a police officer’.” She felt this was done to intimidate her. She told The Guardian that she had also received a death threat which, when she reported it, was dismissed. 

I moved to London in September 2020, so I never knew what life in the capital pre-pandemic was like. Because of this, I cannot say that something has changed in the city. 

But what I do know is that something feels, to put it mildly, off-kilter. It’s present when the police on the street do not install feelings of safety. It’s when I walk past two officers in the park laughing and I experience feelings of nausea, knowing what their fellow police officers have found to constitute an amusing joke. And, perhaps most telling of all, it’s present on the tube when a friend catches glimpse of a Met advertisement plastered on the carriage wall, only to look at me and roll her eyes. 

At this point, I feel it’s important to say that as a white woman, I can only know this fear to a somewhat diluted extent. I can only imagine how this is amplified for other Londoners. 

Jewell was right. For months, Dame Cressida’s position as Met Police Commissioner has been completely untenable. But, there are still institutional issues to fix and a long way to go to build back respect and trust from the public. To join in with the jokes I usually take objection to, one down, many more to go.

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